By Sondra Murphy
Ojai City Council special election candidates Paul Blatz and Leonard Klaif squared off Thursday at the Soule Park Golf Course banquet room in a forum sponsored by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. Taking a break from his “Save Libbey Bowl” fund raising efforts, Ojai Music Festival executive director Jeff Haydon moderated the event.
With two attorney candidates who have been active in the community for years, the audience was seeking to learn the differences between the men. Each acknowledged their similarities and agreed on the big issues, such as working to preserve the natural environment of Ojai, establishing policies that kept the city on the sustainability path and presenting stronger council direction to city staff.
It is in their methods of affecting change that they differ, with Blatz having a history of working within governmental pathways, while Klaif has taken more of a grassroots approach.
The candidates fielded written questions from chamber members and spectators that were laden with merchant concerns. “The relationship that the City Council needs to promote through the city staff to the business community it that the city of Ojai is receptive, is cooperative and very much supportive or our businesses in all aspects,” said Blatz. He was in favor of the investment the city recently made to assist the chamber with efforts to market Ojai as a tourist destination. He said, however, that the planning department was often perceived as inflexible to people’s ideas.
“So many times, I hear that people want to do an improvement to their property, but when they go to City Hall, the staff says they can’t do it instead of how they can work together to get it done,” Blatz said. “That’s something the city council should be responsible for and, working with the chamber, I think it’s something the City Council can do.” He also suggested more projects merging city and private organizations, such as Rotary Community Park, to accomplish things like building bus stop shelters.
Klaif also supported the marketing efforts, but pointed out that the council has a variable constituency to represent. “The business community is one aspect of the community that the City Council has to serve. Sometimes the interests of business will mesh with the other aspects and sometimes it won’t,” said Klaif. “The business community and the council need to remain separate entities, neither serving as the master of the other, but working together. It is separate and the council is not there to do the bidding of the merchants. I know you want us to do everything to be merchant-friendly, but sometimes we can’t.”
In order to assist the business community during the current economic strife, each man had a plan as to what he would like to do, if elected. Klaif wants to more actively tap the talents of residents in citywide art projects that will attract visitors to businesses. He also sees the outdoor activities and features to be promoted. “We have an incredible green community and implementing a bicycle plan will help that image,” Klaif said.
Blatz suggested a different method. “I think we need to form an economic development commission to investigate those type of businesses that we think will benefit Ojai,” he said. “Once we identify those markets, go out and encourage them to come to Ojai. Show them the benefits of Ojai.” Blatz said, if elected, he would propose such a commission be established and a liaison appointed to help expedite business endeavors.
Both candidates favored increasing communication and involvement between city and county commissions, such as the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council and Oak View Civic Council. Each man was also angry over Golden State Water Company’s newest request for rate hikes. “What Golden State is proposing is absolutely criminal as far as I’m concerned,” said Blatz. “At the rate they’re going now, our water bills will exceed our mortgages pretty soon.”
“The City Council has no power over Golden State other than, as a council, appear at the PUC hearings and speak on behalf of the city,” Klaif said. “I also support Councilwoman Betsy Clapp’s suggestion we investigate eminent domain to take over the water system in Ojai.”
Both feel the council lets staff divert momentum too often. “Why is it we don’t have a skate park? … Why is Channel 10 dark? Why we don’t have a public access channel is because the council doesn’t give direction,” said Klaif.
“Staff is there to give information. The ultimate flavor of the city has to do with the City Council. The city manager is there to serve at the pleasure of the City Council said Blatz. “It’s inconceivable to me that the skateboard park has had so many problems. We’re not building a space shuttle here.” He said that, if postponements are a result of mistakes, then the council needs to hold people accountable so that repeated problems are avoided.
When asked about whether they support the idea of developing the downtown district office of Ojai Unified School District, dissimilarity occurred. “I’m not opposed to development, but the development needs to be consistent with protecting the small town village atmosphere,” said Klaif. “We need to help mold development rather than have developers mold Ojai.”
Blatz mentioned that he had faith in the planning commission to assure designs fit into the city’s character. “I do support the development of the OUSD property for a performing arts complex. I think it can be compatible with the small town atmosphere, so would be very supportive of any development that’s consistent with Ojai.”
As the forum wrapped, each man was able to sum up his methods for the crowd. “I really believe the both of us want to get the same things accomplished,” said Blatz. “I am a better candidate because of my knowing the inner workings of the city… I’m very much project oriented …Our experience is different, but our commitment is the same, but if you look at where our focus has been, those are our distinguishing differences.”
“I’ve been on the outside hootin’ and hollerin’ — and I’m good at hootin’ and hollerin’ — but I didn’t serve on the board of trustees on the Ojai Center for the Arts by hootin’ and hollerin’,” said Klaif. “In my opinion, city government needs to be shaken up a little these days. ‘Business as usual’ has too often been ‘nothing being done.’”
The Ojai City Council special election is a result of Mayor Joe DeVito retiring last December. The council originally voted to appoint DeVito’s replacement, then, at the urging of their constituents, decided to send the matter to the voters. It is scheduled during the June 8 primary election. The winner will fill the position through the end of 2010 and will have to run again in November if he wishes to continue serving on the council.
Finances for annual October event still to be ironed out
By Sondra Murphy
By Logan Hall
Food For Thought held a memorial planting of three healthy tangerine trees at Topa Topa Elementary on Tuesday in honor of the life of the organization’s co-founder, Marty Fujita, who passed away earlier this year. About 30 of her family, friends and supporters were there to share her memory and dedicate the trees to the life that had touched so many people. The east edge of the school, adjacent to the students’ lunch area was the chosen location for the trees that were donated by the Agricultural Futures of America, where Fujita was an active member, and planted by Fujita’s family members including her husband, Chuck Cook, and her daughters, Taylor and Dana. Tangerines were chosen because of Fujita’s love of the Pixie variety of the fruit which she would help sell at the Ojai Farmers’ Market on Sundays. “I thought it was very fitting,” said Cook. “The memorial will endure for many years. It will give me and my daughters a chance to go back and remember her five, 10, even 20 years or more in the future.”
Fujita, along with supporters like Jim Churchill, founded Food For Thought in 2003 with a goal of bringing healthy, fresh nutrition into Ojai’s schools, beginning with a farm-to-school salad bar introduced at Topa Topa. The program has since put in a greenhouse and a garden at the school as well as the trees planted in Fujita’s honor. “Food For Thought has really done a lot for the school,” said Topa Topa Elementary principal John LeSuer while pointing at their garden. “It’s a great organization, and Marty did a great job with them.” According to LeSuer, the fresh food produced from the garden has been sold in their own version of a farmers’ market in front of the school.
The tangerine trees and a dedication sign that proclaims the trees as “Marty’s Grove” appear to fill in the void that was just bare dirt along the east fence of the school and seems to help bring solace to those who were close to Fujita. “This is absolutely the most fitting place for her memorial here at Topa Topa,” said Food For Thought executive director Lori Hamor, who couldn’t choke back tears during an address to attendees of the memorial. “Thanks to Marty and this group, I turned into something I never thought I could be.”
For those who attended, the tree planting was a fitting tribute to their friend and colleague who had such close ties with Food For Thought and Topa Topa. “The whole thing really came together,” said LeSuer. “I can’t think of a better thing than to plant trees in honor of Marty.”
Donation to be provided over five-year period
Rabobank, N.A. has donated $25,000 to help close the final funding gap for restoring Ojai’s iconic Libbey Bowl. Cari Guerrero, Ojai branch manager, and Nikki Sloan, commercial banking officer, presented a check this week to Alan Rains, president of the Ojai Valley Service Foundation and Anna Cho, executive director of the “Save Libbey Bowl” campaign.
“Rabobank is pleased to assist Ojai in making this longtime dream into a reality,” said Jeff Paul, regional president. “Libbey Bowl is so integral to this community — culturally, socially and economically — and we need to preserve it for future generations to enjoy.”
The bank’s donation, which will be provided over a five-year period, is part of a $3 million “Save Libbey Bowl” effort by the Ojai community. The city of Ojai and the Ojai Music Festival pledged two-thirds of that amount, and the “Save Libbey Bowl” campaign, a project of the Ojai Valley Service Foundation, is within a few thousand dollars of securing the remaining $1 million.
“Since coming to the Ojai Valley, Rabobank has been very supportive of the community and this is just further demonstration of their ongoing commitment to Ojai,” said Alan Rains, chairman of the “Save Libbey Bowl” campaign. “We are deeply appreciative of their generous donation, as we are all of our donors large and small, and we look forward to a new and better Libbey Bowl.”
The 50-year-old amphitheater is a showcase for more than 20 events each year, including the Ojai Music Festival. An estimated 1,000 concerts, plays and other performances have been staged at Libbey Bowl since 1957.
Over the years, wood rot and termites have compromised the structure, and the city of Ojai concluded that Libbey Bowl is beyond repair and has called for a complete rebuilding. The reconstruction project is scheduled to begin in June and is expected to take about a year to complete.
Rabobank, N.A. is a California community bank with 92 retail branches, including one in Ojai and one in Oak View, and 15 financial service centers, that serve the needs of communities from Sacramento to the Imperial Valley.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude-2.8 quake was centered in Oak View early on the morning of Monday, April 26. Did you feel it?
One job saved, but other cuts inevitable with $2.8M shortfall
By Misty Volaski
Mahatma Gandhi said that real unity stands in the face of the severest strain without breaking. Members of the Ojai Unified School District did just that Tuesday night, as they faced yet more “heartbreaking” cuts in an attempt to balance the projected $2.8 million budget deficit.
Increased fees for services probable
By Sondra Murphy
Projected city revenue losses are already having a negative impact on many of the programs the people have come to expect. At the heart of these are recreation opportunities for valley citizens of all ages.
Historically, Ojai Recreation Department has been subsidized by the general fund to offset the cost of operating the facility and programs. ORD took budget hits in 2004-2005 that eliminated two-and-a-half positions, capital improvement funds, in-house maintenance, boxing and the Easter and Halloween community events, as well as severely stripped the teen program, Ojai Day funding, Skate Park maintenance and increased user fees.
In February, city manager Jere Kersnar presented a midyear budget report that showed it would be necessary to make further budget adjustments in order to achieve the City Council-directed balanced budget. The Parks and Recreation Commission was given the challenge of cutting $150,000 from its 2010-2011 budget through cost cutting, fee increases and reducing or eliminating programs. With 8,000 city residents, but up to 37,000 estimated residents valleywide, county support of Ojai’s recreational facilities are slim at best, adding to the responsibility shouldered by ORD.
The Recreation Commis-sion met twice in March in order to take on the reduction needs. “The commissioners really took their task to heart,” said ORD director Dale Sumersille. “They agreed they wanted to restore youth programs. We need to be good stewards and provide recreation programs.” She said that the commission hoped that parent volunteers would step up to the plate in helping to officiate and coach future leagues and programs.
The outcome of the meetings was a report presented by Sumersille at last week’s City Council meeting. “Staff has reviewed each program area and line item very carefully. To keep the Recreation Department self-sustaining to the greatest extent possible, the following regrettable recommendations are proposed,” Sumersille reported. Eliminations included teen dances and the teen boxing program; the aquatics program and Ojai Day event; eliminating the haunted house event; and changing one full-time position to a part-time position. The commission also recommended reducing all contract instructors by 5 percent and various program supplies and equipment, such as T-shirts or awards. Also proposed were increases in registration fees by $5, adult sports programs by $25 per team, and out-of-city fees to $7 per activity and per participant.
Those recommendations allowed the commission to cut $133,395.75, so they further recommended cut ting the following programs: fall and spring day camps; youth softball class; youth flag football league; youth and peewee soccer leagues and classes; adult basketball league; adult flag football league; and adult volleyball, including leagues and the annual Gasaway Tournament.
“Going to the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting was very enlightening because they dealt with it head-on,” said Kersnar. “They said, ‘We know what the problem is and here’s what we’re going to do,’ even though they didn’t want any cuts, so they decided to try and save youth programs, thin it out, in order to keep the program at a reduced cost. They spent a lot of time on it and I would go along with their recommendations.”
But the council was flabbergasted. “I’m just disappointed that it took so long to come before us because it puts us in a very tough position,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
“As far as the process, as far as the $150,000, we want you to see the impacts and, if you don’t like it, you can change it,” said Kersnar. The Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission is an advisory group to the City Council. The council alone has authority to make policy decisions and direct staff.
“But, really, I don’t want to know what we need to cut,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “What we need is a vigorous program with wide participation.” She asked for staff to revisit the budget and bring back a new proposal. “I think we’re better off to offer the programs with increased fees rather than have no programs.”
The council then voted to reinstate the aquatics program, raise out-of-city fees to $10 per child, per activity, and increase adult sports programs by the recommended $25 per team. County property taxes contribute little or nothing to the Recreation Department. Sumersille said she was hoping the county supervisors would soon vote to give $16,500 to ORD for scholarships.
“It’s the kids who need these programs who end up suffering,” said Sumersille about the program cuts.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sage Intner concurred. “We want to prioritize, keeping youth sports as strong as possible,” she said. “We are a linchpin for the community … This is where we’re establishing what Ojai is.”
Intner pointed out that staff already volunteers at the department. “So you’re looking at cutting staff hours for hours they’re not even being paid for,” Intner said. “We cut out our teen dances and it seems small, but those are contact points.”
The issue of Ojai Day was touched upon as to whether it even belonged as part of the recreation budget. Last year’s Ojai Day cost $53,768 to fund but brought in $40,000 in revenues for a net cost to the city of $13,768. Organizers estimated that if various stipends were eliminated, it could add up to more than $5,000 in additional savings and result in less than $9,000 of city support.
Sumersille said, since the council meeting, subsequent Parks and Recreation Commission meetings have netted $157,316 in cuts.
Program decisions need to be made soon so ORD may order accurate summer programs brochures. The item will again appear on the Ojai City Council agenda Tuesday, as Sumersille brings back details about further commission discussion and staff ideas. That meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 401 S. Ventura St.
TVs, computers, furniture dumped at shooting area
By Logan Hall
For many years, Cherry Creek shooting range has been a popular destination for locals to fire off some rounds with family and friends. Located about 30 miles up Highway 33 in Los Padres National Forest, Cherry Creek offers seasonal target shooting areas that are free for the public to enjoy. In recent years however, Cherry Creek and many other recreational locations in the mountains surrounding Ojai have been inundated with trash and vandalism.
For many people, the shooting range has been a pristine location for the sport they love so much. Some have called it a sanctuary and a special place to get away from the stresses of everyday life. For others, it’s simply a clean, safe place for target shooting. Lately, local marksmen have noticed an alarming trend that is transforming Cherry Creek into a veritable dumping ground for “targets” that are left behind by careless gunslingers. Everything from TVs, computers and other electronics to furniture are being used as cannon fodder. Most of the time, the piles of torn-up metal and plastic are just left behind with little or no regard to the surrounding environment.
Brian Reid, valley resident and avid marksman, has witnessed the fallout of such carelessness firsthand. “I learned to shoot at Cherry Creek,” said Reid, who also proposed to his wife in the area. “I’m really enraged at what people are doing up there.”
Rather than just sit and complain about the situation, Reid chose to take a more proactive approach and organize a cleanup effort in conjunction with the Ojai Ranger District that involved 12 volunteers. With three trucks, a large roll-off dumpster, and a little elbow grease, they were able to make some headway in the lengthy process of litter removal, and an estimated 5 tons of material was hauled out by Reid and his volunteers. Reid says that this is only one piece of the puzzle, however, and the real solution is to spread awareness and get people to be responsible for the cleanup of their own mess. “Too many people just don’t care,” said Reid. “I organized a small cleanup a year ago with a couple of friends, but every time I go up there, the trash always comes back.”
In his first cleanup effort, Reid and his two friends encountered an industrial microwave that weighed 200 to 300 pounds. The implications for the impact that such things could have on the environment and the general aesthetic beauty of the area are very serious. “The metal and plastic they leave behind will stay there forever,” added Reid. “We have to keep our environment clean.”
Reid says he would eventually like to organize a quarterly cleanup effort to help maintain the area and hopes to get many more volunteers for the next event. “It’s an ongoing problem that causes a lot of junk to be accumulated,” said Charlie Robinson, Ojai Ranger District recreation officer. “Some items have toxic materials and are in close proximity to certain creeks and streams.”
Volunteer Cody Silvestri also shares a similar viewpoint with Reid and Robinson. “I’ve been going to Cherry Creek since I was 12 years old,” said Silvestri, who is now 28. “I feel sick to my stomach when I see all the trash. These people don’t get it. You have to pack out what you pack in.”
Another problem that has risen, is the actual shooting of trees and other structures in the area. According to Ojai Ranger District officials, some trees such as oaks have been partially cut down by firearm projectiles. Aside from the debris, garbage and overall property damage, there has also been vandalism in the form of graffiti on rocks, trees and anything else that vandals can get their hands on.
Cherry Creek hasn’t been the only place affected. Strewn garbage and vandalism have been reported in many areas including Lions Camp and other areas in Rose Valley. Similar to the problems faced by users of Shelf Road and its nearby property owners, visitors and residents of the mountains up Highway 33 are encountering vandalism, underage drinking, and garbage left behind by inconsiderate people.
Because of the many incidents involving misuse of various facilities, Robinson has indicated that the Ojai Ranger District might ban target shooting altogether from their section of National Forest, which encompasses an area from Pine Mountain Ridge down to Piru Creek, and over to the Ventura-Santa Barbara County line. “We are moving forward on an effort to shut down target shooting in the Ojai district of the Los Padres National Forest,” said Robinson, who said the banning of target shooting is not a matter of if, but when. “Once shut down, anyone caught target shooting in any areas such as Cherry Creek could face citations which would involve confiscation of their firearms, a fine of up to $5,000, and or up to six months in jail.”
The hope is that with a little awareness and effort by everyone enjoying Ojai’s mountains, the problem can be kept in check and will help return these locations back into the pristine sanctuaries they once were. “Brian and his volunteers did a great job in Cherry Creek,” said Robinson. “We appreciate them helping out and always welcome volunteers to pitch in, but until people learn to bring back out what they bring in, there will continue to be an environmental impact on the area.”
Task team trying to keep venue financially accessible to nonprofits
By Sondra Murphy
With the Libbey Bowl renovation established as an official construction project, the Ojai City Council discussed the venue’s future operations last week. A task team has been researching and discussing methods of making the upgraded facility cost effective without pricing out local nonprofit organizations.
Ojai Public Works Director Mike Culver explained the task team required council input on operations policies before it could progress to the next stage of meetings. With a goal of keeping the bowl financially accessible to local nonprofit groups, the team has met with experts in the field to develop a system that would not only enable community use, but support ongoing maintenance for the venue.
When the Libbey family donated the park property to the Ojai Civic Association in 1917, they imposed conditions. These are that no private parties or corporations be allowed to occupy or use the property for profit; no manufacture, disposal or permitted sale of alcohol would be allowed on the property; and approaches and roads leading to the park would be kept clean and sanitary.
Nonprofit groups using the bowl have often struggled over the years with not only covering their costs, but earning enough to give them a start-up budget for the next effort. With this in mind, the issue came before the council because the committee needed direction in order to proceed.
“There’s a need to develop some sort of organization strategy for how this facility can and will be used for the best benefit of all,” said Culver. “Currently, the policy is the bowl is used for nonprofit organizations only.”
He said use fees are established merely to cover the staff time for preparation and emergency needs during a group’s production at Libbey Bowl and does nothing to help with long-term maintenance of the facility. The operations task team wants to implement policies that allow the city to accumulate enough revenues to properly maintain the rebuilt bowl to avoid the types of deterioration that is now making necessary its rebuild.
Culver presented a use history from the past five years. In 2009, only 9 groups rented the bowl and three of those were groups that are not charged: the Fourth of July committee, Ojai Music Festival and Mexican Fiesta. Culver provided the council with the cost of bowl use. It includes a $100 processing fee, plus daily charges for use, setup, rehearsal and teardown. “Basically, any nonprofit that comes in to use the bowl, there’s a minimum $350 charge,” he said. Use costs $250 per day.
He also came up with a preliminary maintenance plan. “I tried to project what I saw as long-term maintenance needs, projecting that out on what I expect the life span is, so 20 years from now, when it needs a new roof, we have the funds for that,” said Culver. He projected the bowl would need to set aside about $20,000 annually for long-term roofing, seating, painting and miscellaneous repairs.
With ongoing and event-specific maintenance estimations, the total estimation is $31,550. “That is what I believe is going to be the minimal impact on the city, regardless of use,” Culver said.
The dilemma brought to the council, then, was whether to alter Libbey Bowl’s use policies to allow for limited for-profit agencies to use the facility and whether council members would consider allowing the sale of beer or wine at certain events. Before continuing to develop the operations recommendations, the committee wanted the council to tell them if they were open or opposed to exploring either of those two concepts into the operations policy.
Public speakers and council members alike expressed hesitation over both breaks from tradition, including fear that the bowl would usurp the community theater venues, be too costly for local nonprofit agencies and require increased law enforcement to keep alcohol consumption in check.
“I think that, in sitting on the task force and listening, the bottom line is there needs to be revenue to maintain this bowl,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. He reiterated that local nonprofits would be favored in Libbey Bowl scheduling. “This facility is being built for them.”
“We’re talking about a midway step, then bringing it back to public hearing,” Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Smith summed up.
After acknowledging the pros and cons both changes might mean, the council members determined they were amenable to at least exploring the concepts and getting more information from the committee, as well as hearing from the community about the changes.
City manager Jere Kersnar estimated the operations committee would be able to submit a business plan in four to six weeks that offered different options for the council to consider.
This discussion was an act of faith that the final donations will be received in time to begin rebuilding Libbey Bowl in June. The council approved the call for bids the same day in order to keep up with the tight construction schedule, with bid opening set for May 12.
Approximately $350,000 is still needed for the project estimated to cost $3.2 million. The city and OMF have pledged two-thirds of the amount, with the Save Libbey Bowl campaign accepting responsibility to procure the remainder. To donate to or finalize a contribution to the reconstruction project, call 646-3117 or visit the web site at LibbeyBowl.org.
CHP Press Release from Officer Steven Reid
On April 17, 2010 at about 8:54 pm, a major injury traffic collision involving a VenturaCounty Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicle and a GMC pickup truck occurred on SR-126
west of Timber Canyon Rd.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy William Meixner and his partner Deputy Beau
Rodriguez had just completed a traffic stop on eastbound SR-126 near Willard Rd. The
deputies were traveling eastbound west of Timber Canyon Rd. when a red GMC pickup
truck made a sudden left turn out of a driveway directly into the path of the patrol vehicle.
Deputy Meixner attempted to avoid a collision with the GMC by applying his brakes and
steering to the left. Deputy Meixner was unable to avoid the collision and the front end of
the patrol vehicle struck the left side of the GMC. The GMC overturned ejecting the
driver, Mayra Tellez age 22 of Santa Paula. The GMC came to rest on its left side in the
two way turn lane on SR-126. The patrol vehicle traveled northbound across SR-126 and
struck a guardrail. The patrol vehicle came to rest on the westbound right shoulder.
Tellez’s boyfriend, Jose Velasquez Diaz age 27 of Santa Paula, was the passenger and was
able to climb out of the vehicle after the collision. The two deputies were trapped in the
patrol vehicle and had to be extricated by the fire department.
Both deputies and Tellez sustained major injuries in the collision were transported by
ambulance to Ventura County Medical Center. Diaz was transported to Community
Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released for minor injuries.
SR-126 was closed from Hallock Dr. to E St. in Fillmore while the CHP investigated the
collision. Traffic was detoured to South Mountain Rd. The roadway was opened at 2:20
am. The collision is still under investigation.
Read the Meixner Report published in the OVN, May 18, 2007.
Good Evening Watchers,
By Scott Wintermute
At 4:21 p.m. Saturday, Ventura County firefighters responded to
a fire in a garage in Mira Monte. It was a potentially dangerous
situation, as the garage doubled as a workshop for a radiator repair
company owned by Jim Logsdon. Equipment related to the business may
have been responsible for starting the blaze, a neighbor suggested, which was quickly brought under control, but only after doing extensive damage to the
home. The affected house is the residence of Jim and Arlene Logsdon
and their grandson Gage, all of whom, along with their three dogs
and chickens, escaped injury.
Neighbor and friend of the Logsdons, Travis Henderson, was in his house
next door when he heard an explosion. “I heard a big boom; it was like
a pop, like something electrical blew up. I ran out and saw black
smoke… I started spraying down the trailer because there was an
acetylene tank in the trailer.”
An investigation into the exact cause of the fire is under way.
By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai City Council was quick to stray from the path of scheduling changes for the Ojai Trolley Service as users packed city hall Tuesday to give input about their need for the useful, but often sparsely populated, form of public transit. If the trolley had evening service hours, perhaps even more would have been in attendance.
The subject was on the Ojai City Council agenda again after last month’s report showing a transit budget shortfall of $117,826 is expected for fiscal year 2010-2011. Public Works director Mike Culver was directed by council in March to come back with specifics on what a possible 25 percent cut in services would entail.
Culver returned with multiple options for the council to consider in dealing with the deficit in the $820,952 system’s budget. The shortfall is caused by a decrease in gasoline sales tax and federal funding that is used to supplement mass transit throughout the state that is distributed county by county based on population statistics and other mind-boggling formulas.
Projected farebox earnings being an anemic $35,000 of the budget lent to entertaining a scheduling cutback that included recommendations for a number of changes. These included cutting weekend service in half by returning to once-hourly stops; eliminating Sunday services completely while cutting Saturday services in half; and eliminating all weekend services.
“We want to make cuts where they will have the least impact on ridership,” said Culver. “Clearly, Sunday is the least used day, Saturday is next and, on the weekdays, it nearly doubles.”
Culver also prepared options for cutting weekday services and said that peak usage times would be factored into such cuts. His two options were to cut the first and last stop times from the schedule or else create overlapping routes with 30-minute service routes during peak times and one-hour routes during non-peak times.
Of the expenditure reduction options, Culver and staff recommended adoption of shortening overall service on weekday trolleys by eliminating the first and last stops and to eliminate Sunday service and cut Saturday service in half. He said this would result in a 7-percent and 16.9-percent service reduction overall and 34 hours. Keeping reductions below 25 percent was a goal in order to avoid costly civil rights and environmental impact studies.
“The city of Ojai sees only about 51 cents in actual budget reduction for every dollar saved. In addition, the reduced service levels will result in reduced farebox revenues,” Culver reported, adding the cuts would also reduce the city’s contribution to countywide transit, resulting in a projected $649,005 in revenues, down from $820,952, and leaving a shortfall of 71,699.
After reporting on the data and giving his recommendation, Council-woman Sue Horgan chimed in with a comment that changed the trajectory of the proceedings. “Your conclusion is wrong,” said Horgan. “Service reduction is not our goal. Our goal is to have the best service we can.” From the audience came a collective sigh of relief.
Public comments were overwhelmingly against any service reduction and involved accounts of the imperative need the Ojai Trolley System fills. Seniors and those with physical limitations were particularly distraught over the thought of losing their primary mode of transportation.
Marshall Kilpatrick was especially concerned about cutting weekend service. “As you can see, the trolley is very important to me. I always count on it to get me to church on Sunday.”
Carlene Sucorsky said impairments prohibit her from driving and that she moved to Ojai because of the trolley that she and other disabled people rely on. “My life depends on the Ojai Trolley,” she said. “I ask you to please consider us when you make your decision as to what to do.”
“There’s a constituency that you’re seeing here tonight that represents just the tip of the iceberg and they’re pretty much disenfranchised,” said Sheri Ann Cate. She asked that the needs of the speakers be considered as important by the council members as the needs of the business, art and tourism communities. “There has to be other options before you start disenfranchising these people further.”
Carolee Nelson contradicted previous discussions that predicted loss of customers by raising fares. “We want to pay fares,” she said. A one-way trolley trip currently costs 50 cents or 25 cents for students and seniors. There are a number of people who pay nothing due to bus transfers and various waivers.
Several speakers also lamented the elimination of bus service to the downtown Park & Ride lot, lack of schedule postings at stops and the uncivilized nature of the stop at the “Y” shopping center, the hub of transfer between the trolley and Gold Coast Transit Service into Ventura and Oxnard.
Ojai Trolley transit operations supervisor Drew Lurie and driver Guy Ring each presented ideas to increase revenues. Ring brought up the possibility that Ojai Unified School District may be eliminating bus service next year and, if so, expected it to increase the trolley need for students throughout the valley. He also had ideas for renegotiating GCT’s No. 16 bus route into Ojai to save money while better serving the needs of riders.
Lurie reminded all that the trolley would be out in full force on April 24 in commemoration of Earth Day activities at Ojai Rotary Park and Besant Meadows Preserve and would be offering free rides.
Addressing some of the obvious animosity speakers directed toward Culver, Councilwoman Carol Smith explained that he was given a council mandate to take no more money from the general fund due to the recent losses in revenues the city has experienced and the many cutback Ojai would be making in the months to come. “I’d like to be on a committee with Drew and others to work on how to do more marketing,” said Smith. “Eliminating Sunday I’m against, not only for people who need to get to church, but because I think some of the mystique of Ojai is the trolley and I’d like to see it included into the marketing plan.”
Smith said she was not willing to cut any trolley services at this point and suggested forming an ad hoc committee, ideas that the other members supported. Councilwoman Betsy Clapp asked city attorney Monte Widders to remind everyone why the trolley may not be used by private parties.
“There is a federal transit administration regulation which prohibits the public sector from competing with the private sector in providing transit services to private parties as long as anyone is willing to provide the service,” said Widders.
Culver elaborated. “Every single time we get a request for trolley service, we have to notify every single private transportation service,” he said. “There are companies from Virginia and Maine and, I think one in Alaska, saying they’ll provide services in Ventura County and if one of them responds, then we’re out of the game and it’s not dependent on them actually providing services, but just to say they are interested.”
“I think we are probably not going to take a vote on any of these issues tonight,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. Smith then moved to form an ad hoc committee solely aimed at marketing the Ojai Trolley in order to increase farebox revenues. It passed unanimously.
By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai City Council performed a leap of faith Tuesday when it voted to designate the Libbey Bowl Reconstruction Project an official project in spite of being short the full amount estimated for renovation.
Ojai Public Works director Mike Culver reported that, of the $820,000 contributed by the city so far to the effort, approximately $780,000 has been spent or allocated for various costs, including consulting functions and architectural design, and an additional $40,000 will be used for continued consulting services. This leaves nothing available for actual construction, making the fund-raising efforts by local groups and volunteers more essential than ever.
The Ojai Music Festival and Ojai Service Foundation, instrumental in generating donations to rebuild the decaying amphitheater at the heart of the city, originally set a $3 million goal for the effort that has since been upgraded to a $3.2 million price tag. The city and OMF pledged two-thirds of the amount, with the Save Libbey Bowl campaign accepting responsibility to procure the remainder.
Bill Burr Jr., vice president of OSF, reported that the project is not out of the woods yet. “We have a total of $2.8 million,” said Burr. “Now is the time for everybody who waits till the last minute to make their donation.”
While the council members were hesitant to direct staff to call for bids without having all the money raised, they also expressed awe for the community support and hope that the last dollars needed will materialize. Delays in initiating the bid process would have threatened to disrupt the tight construction time line that calls for demolition immediately following this year’s Music Festival season in order to see completion before next year’s season.
With the call for bids made Wednesday, bid opening scheduled for May 12 and contract awards set for May 25, this will allow construction work to begin June 21 in anticipation of an April 11, 2011 completion, giving nearly a two-month buffer before the grand opening June 9 to 11, 2011.
“I knew we were going to get to the point where we had to fish or cut bait,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan, “but I think you have a lot of steam rolling and I’m willing to take this step.” Always a stickler on budgetary concerns, Horgan reminded all that she will not vote to award a contract if the money is not in the bank by the time the project returns to the City Council for approval.
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp took the sentiment a step further in stating that she could not support the project’s designation because management of the completed bowl had not yet been worked out. She cited issues that were to be addressed in the following agenda item submitted by the Libbey Bowl Operations Task Team looking for policy direction for the amphitheater’s management.
“I share your concerns, however Libbey Bowl is falling apart,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “It’s becoming a blighted bowl. I think that I will go with hope that the rest of the money will be raised … Libbey Bowl is our star to bring tourists here during the week.” Smith expressed hope that the rebuilt bowl would attract events that enhanced Ojai’s cultural image.
City attorney Monte Widders said that there is a standard 60-day window between bid awarding and first payment installment and contractors know their bids hold until then. “At that time, if the funds are not secured, then staff would recommend that the council reject all bids,” said Widders.
“We need to move forward,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. “Mr. Widders explained what the process is and there are stop gaps in place if the money is not in place.”
The motion passed, 3-1, with Clapp dissenting.
“We’re thrilled that the city of Ojai has managed this project so well,” said OMF executive director Jeff Haydon. “They’ve had a lot of leadership and vision and are not only getting it out to bid on time, but out during the most favorable construction pricing climate in recent history.”
Haydon also acknowledged the efforts of volunteers and donors and said that more than $2,000 has been raised in the Bakers for the Bowl efforts and nearly $1,000 has come in from the Save Libbey Bowl collection jars placed at businesses around the valley. “That’s a lot of change,” he said.
He also emphasized that time is of the essence. “We’re thrilled with the outgrowth of community generosity and we’ve raised almost $850,000 in four months,” Haydon said. “All of us working on the project, fund raisers and the city alike, we need to know we have people’s cash for pledges in the next few weeks in order for these bids to come in, so timing is critical.”
Libbey Bowl amphitheater has been serving the community since it was built in the 1950s and is currently used by as many as 30 nonprofit groups for more than 50 events each year. It is estimated that 1,000 performances of plays, concerts and other civic events, such as the Ojai Music Festival, have been staged at Libbey Bowl since 1957.
Designed by Austen Pierpont and Roy Wilson, Ojai Festival Bowl” renamed Libbey Bowl in the 1970s, cost $12,000 to build the stage and shell section back in 1957. In recent years, spot repairs have been unable to keep up with the steady deterioration of the largely wooden structure. Termite damage, wood rot and other forms of decay have added safety issues to the list of concerns about the bowl’s endurance.
To donate to or finalize a contribution to the reconstruction project, call 646-3117 or visit the web site at LibbeyBowl.org.
Look for Part 2 of this report in next week’s OVN regarding the Libbey Bowl Operations Task Team report to City Council and the decisions made.
Stop the Trucks movement again targets two area mines
By Sondra Murphy
Since the Stop the Trucks Coalition has submitted dozens of additional complaints regarding recent gravel truck violations down Highway 33 through Ojai, Ventura County is in the investigation phase. Although there’s annual violation monitoring for the mines, additional investigations are largely complaint based, so the coalition submissions are needed for the county to proceed.
Two mines are targeted: Ozena Valley Ranch Mine and Ojai Quarry. “In the last few weeks, we’ve received about 60 complaints potentially involving Ozena or Ojai Quarry,” said Dan Klemann, manager, commercial and industrial permit section for the Ventura County Planning Division. “We now have a staff person working just on these complaints. He’s going through and screening them.”
Klemann said the process is time-consuming and there are different conditions imposed on the two mines. Generally, traffic restrictions were created to address congestion issues, but the mines have additional requirements regarding allowed hours of operation through Ojai.
According to Klemann, Ozena delivery trucks are limited to traveling through the Highway 33 restricted route between 6 to 7 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. They are further limited to 50 round trips during any given 24-hour period and may not exceed 10,197 trips in any given year. “Ojai Quarry does not have the same conditions,” said Klemann.
“Ojai Quarry is only allowed to operate Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In addition to that, two additional conditions also limit trips through Ojai to 20 times a day.” He added that whenever loaded product trucks travel within the city of Ojai, they are supposed to submit a report to the Ojai Police Department.
Once the Planning Division receives a complaint, Klemann’s department must first assess the complaint for violation potential before opening up a case. They next prepare an alleged notice of violation to the mines in question and send it out. Depending on the number of alleged violations involved, the mine has a certain amount of time to respond by supplying copies of weigh ticket data, which includes license plate number, weight and time of each truck as it leaves.
Then county staff study the information to determine if the ticket data could have resulted in each truck passing through Ojai during their specific mine’s restricted travel time window. “I drove from Ozena and back —- three times — during the times when they are not allowed to drive to get an estimate of time,” said Klemann. The department then looks at the truck’s destination and applies the drive time formula to the trip to confirm or refute a violation.
“Another complicating factor is, let’s assume we did confirm a violation,” Klemann said. “We must determine what sort of penalties should ensue. With recurring violations, we can say, ‘With each day you don’t address this we’re going to penalize you by so much.’” With independent trucking contractors involved, it makes it challenging to show recurrence and, with one-time confirmed violations, the per-day penalty is moot.
“We do have a requirement that miners must inform their truckers of the restricted zones,” said Klemann. He added that the current economic downturn resulting in fewer construction projects has resulted in mines and truck drivers needing as much work as possible, just like most other businesses.
The most recent complaints generated by Stop the Trucks Coalition range in dates between January and March, with most incidents cited from March.
Stop the Trucks Coalition was formed about three years ago when residents were disturbed by gravel truck traffic along Maricopa Highway and began complaining to each other. Looking into the matter, they discovered Ozena Valley Ranch Mine trucks were one of four companies contributing to the disturbance and found conditional use permits that restricted the hours for deliveries. Since then, the coalition maintains that there have been numerous violations by gravel trucks traveling along this Highway 33 corridor during forbidden hours.
Since the Stop the Trucks Coalition was initially organized, an executive committee representing some broad interest and leadership from throughout the Ojai Valley has led it. Michael Shapiro is the current chairman, having taken over the reins from founding member Howard Smith. “In the coming weeks and months, we’re planning on expanding the Executive Committee to encompass representatives from Meiners Oaks, Oak View and Mira Monte,” said Shapiro.
Parents looking to Ventura organization to help daughter develop communication skills
By Logan Hall
Most people have heard about autism at some point in their life, but it seems there are very few who realize that hundreds of thousands of families in America are affected by the disorder. From the poorest slums to the wealthiest private communities, autism knows no ethnic, social or economical boundaries, and the Ojai Valley is no exception to that rule.
When valley residents Nick and Allison Payne brought their daughter, Victoria, into the world, they began their lives together as a family like many other families do. Payne seemed to be developing as any average child would for the first year of her life. When she was about 1 year old, she was struck with a severe case of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which the Centers for Disease Control states is a common, and most of the time minor, infection in children under the age of 2. After she had suffered from oxygen deprivation and spent a night in the hospital, Payne’s parents noticed a distinct change in her behavior. Some experts believe that trauma may amplify or accelerate pre-existing conditions in children. “She was advancing and doing so well,” said her mother. “After she got sick with RSV, I could tell right away that she had changed.”
It was from that point on that Payne’s parents started noting the various changes and irregularities in her development. “We thought she was deaf at first,” said her mother on why Payne wouldn’t respond to being spoken to. “Eventually, we found that as soon as the cookie jar opened, she heard it from the other room and would come running in. That’s when we knew it was something else.”
Among many of the developmental irregularities that Payne displayed, hand flapping, excessive screaming, and difficulty maintaining eye contact were most predominant and prompted her mother to look up those behaviors online. “Out of 35 symptoms of autism,” said her mother, “Victoria had all but six.” By the time she had turned 3, Victoria had been diagnosed with autism.
The current statistics shared by agencies and organizations like the CDC and the Autism Society, state there are currently 1.5 million Americans living with autism. According to the CDC’s autism prevalence report, conducted by their Autism and Developing Disabilities Monitoring Network, and issued in December 2009, the prevalence of autism had risen to a staggering one in every 110 births with four times as many boys being affected as girls.
Although experts agree there is no one cause that can be pinpointed to autism, many have theories on several possibilities of what could, potentially, relate to the disorder. Often, it seems as though the experts don’t agree entirely on such potential causes.
The Autism Society believes that thimerasol, a compound consisting of 49 percent mercury by weight and used as a preservative in various vaccines commonly given to children, could be a possible factor and should have further unbiased research conducted on the effects of mercury pertaining to vaccines and autism. The CDC counters by stating that scientific research has shown no proof of the relation between inoculations and autism.
There appears to be little dispute over how widespread autism has become, and how serious its implications are for society, communities and, of course, the families and individual people that live every day with the challenges that autism presents.
Many agencies, both public and non-public, help families and individuals affected by autism. The Payne family acquired the services of the non-public, Ventura-based agency Support and Treatment of Autism and Related Disorders to help their daughter develop her social and communication skills that will carry her through the rest of her life.
S.T.A.R. has been working with the Payne family since November 2008 and seems to have a passionate and well-educated staff that cares for the family’s needs.
Christine Hettling, program supervisor for many cases including the Paynes, has been with S.T.A.R. for almost two years and has worked with the Payne family for about seven months. “I got started in this because I wanted to help the children and their families,” said Hettling, who taught the fifth grade in Maryland prior to moving to California and working for S.T.A.R., and ultimately Payne and her parents. “There has been a lot of improvement in Victoria’s communication skills. I really enjoy seeing the progress that we make with the children.”
Although the one-on-one work that the agencies provide for families and individuals is crucial, Dr. Doug Moes, executive director of S.T.A.R., says that is only one part of the overall subject of autism treatment. “I want to emphasize the importance of autism awareness in general,” said Moes. “All communities, including Ojai, along with their schools and service providers, need to build the capacity to respond to families needs.”
It seems to be unanimous among experts that early detection is key in helping children with autism in their development. If the symptoms are addressed early on and dealt with accordingly, there is a much higher chance of having successful treatment, which is why awareness could be the catalyst in the ongoing battle with autism.
Many families could have children that display symptoms of autism, but simply don’t have the understanding to differentiate between normal child behaviors and those that exhibit signs of the disorder. “We see kids in the store that are flapping their hands and rocking back and forth,” said Payne’s mother. “Most of the time the parents say it’s just a kid being a kid. I look at them and think, ‘Are you sure?’”
Everyone working with Payne, including her parents, are pleased with the progress she has made. Though they have had their share of hardships dealing with their daughter’s condition, the Paynes are optimistic about her future and embrace her condition with a conviction that could be an example to other families in similar situations. “She’s a really great kid and she’s doing so much better now.” said Payne’s father. “We wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world.”
Public invited to April 29 event
Submitted by Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce
‘Tis the political season in Ojai, as elsewhere around the country, and the upcoming Ojai City Council election promises to be as hotly contested as any other.
Attorneys Paul Blatz and Lenny Klaif are running for the vacated seat of former Councilman Joe DeVito, who resigned late in 2009. The election is slated for June 8.
In an effort at ensuring its membership is wholly informed about the two candidates, the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, which represents hundreds of valley retailers and service providers, will present a Candidates Forum on April 29 at the Soule Park Golf Course banquet facility.
The forum will be open to the public, and will begin at 5:30 p.m. The event will continue until “… all our questions have been answered,” said Bob Kemper, chamber president.
“It is our intent,” Kemper continued, “to orient our questions specifically toward issues most relevant to the chamber membership. For example, we want to know how each candidate feels about promoting the business community of Ojai, and its long-term financial well-being.” To that end, as soon as the candidate filing period closed March 15, the chamber board posed four questions to each candidate. Why are you running for City Council? What do you perceive are the strengths and weaknesses of Ojai’s current City Council? What do you perceive are the strengths and weaknesses of current Ojai city government? Do you think City Council should be willing to address issues outside Ojai city limits?
The chamber board reviewed the answers to these questions and interviewed each candidate at its monthly board meeting on April 7. The candidates’ answers to these questions will also be distributed at the Candidates Forum.
In addition, the chamber membership has been solicited for questions of more specific interest, which will be asked at the forum. One example: Do you think the City Council bears any responsibility for helping maintain the economic vitality of Ojai’s business community?
The forum will be moderated by Jeff Haydon, former chamber president and executive director of the Ojai Music Festival, and is designed to last approximately one hour. However, the moderator may ask follow-up questions of the candidates, and the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions as well.
“We’re very excited about this event,” Kemper said, “as it will provide an opportunity for all of us to learn how the candidates feel about the issues of specific interest to the well-being of our business community.
“Everyone living in the Ojai Valley knows our local businesses, and the economy, generally, are hurting. Who we elect to the City Council could well have a positive impact on changing that environment.”
The forum is being sponsored by the Ojai Valley Directory and Ojai Community Bank. Admission is free. Light beverages will be available.
FROM: Sgt. Randy Watkins
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department has launched a new website (same Internet address: www.vcsd.org ) that is designed to be more interactive with frequently updated content and accomplished, in part, through the use of popular social networking mediums such as YouTube, Twitter, and Nixle.
New features include an embedded YouTube window on the home page along with a Nixle/Twitter Newswire, scrolling photo gallery, and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) display. The Nixle/Twitter Newswire displays press releases and other important department communication. These same messages are capable of being pushed to smart phones and other hand-held mobile devices to individuals who register with those services. The CAD display refreshes every 60 seconds and allows anyone to view the majority of patrol activity occurring within the Sheriff’s jurisdiction while providing a short time delay for safety and security considerations.
The website also provides statistical crime data for the department’s jurisdictions and has many links to important resources such as inmate information, Crime Stoppers, and REVERSE 911®. The department intends to enhance the capabilities of the website over time and plans to add features in the future such as Crime/Arrest Logs and Google maps. Visitors to the website are encouraged to provide feedback, which will be used to aid in decision making for enhancements in the future.
City-owned transit system in financial trouble
By Sondra Murphy
Residents of the Ojai Valley tend to be vocal about resource sustainability, traffic and air quality and public transit methods figure largely into the equation. Yet ridership on the Ojai Trolley Service remains low and public funding that helps support the system has taken cuts that threaten the viability of the program.
“What happened is our gasoline sales tax and federal funding both disappeared,” Ojai Public Works director Mike Culver told the City Council in March. These significant cuts in both state and federal funding have forced local agencies to make widespread reductions in services or direct funds from other sources to fund public transportation.
The city’s transit operating budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 was estimated at $859,111, with revenues expected at $791,666. But Culver said, based on current spending, staff thinks the actual year-end expenditures will be $775,899. Shortfalls in all updated projected revenues will result in a deficit of nearly $57,000 by the end of the fiscal year. With an immediate 50-percent reduction in service levels, this deficit could be altered to just less than $25,000.
The breakdown for those numbers are as follows: state revenues, $203,000; federal revenues, $252,000; county revenues, $224,000; farebox revenues, $35,000; and general fund revenues, $5,000 for a total of $719,000 and the resulting $56,889 deficit.
With a 50-percent reduction of services, expenses would total about $743,889, for a $24,889 deficit.
Culver brought up the possibility of a fare increase, but did not recommend it. “The last fare increase for the trolley was in 2005 and resulted in a 40-percent drop in average daily ridership,” he reported. “The accepted industry standard is that a system can expect to lose approximately 3 percent of ridership for every 10-percent increase in fares. Therefore, a doubling of the current fares would likely result in as much as a 30-percent decrease in ridership. Based on the current year’s projected revenue of $35,000, this would result in a net increase of only $14,000 by doubling the fare.”
Culver offered three possible strategies for future years to help keep the trolley operational. The first was to maintain the current services and supplement the revenue losses with the general fund. The second was to discontinue all trolley services and expand Gold Coast Transit services. The third is to continue local transit and eliminate or reduce GCT.
The current Ojai transit system includes two full-time and 14 part-time employees who are primarily funded out of the transit fund. “Reductions in service will translate directly to reductions in staffing,” said Culver. “A 50-percent reduction in services would result in the potential loss of nine part-time positions.” Culver also pointed out that any reductions in the overall transit budget would result in an increase to the indirect overhead costs allocated to all other funds, including the general fund.
He asked the council to direct him as to how to proceed, especially as concerned the trolley’s status. “Our recommended action at this time is to implement an immediate service reduction,” Culver said. “That would stop the bleeding this year and allow us to go into next year and begin the public process for service reductions and fare increases.”
“I certainly can’t support that,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “You talked about these funding sources and it is a very convoluted thing.”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp concurred, saying she wanted more information on the financial logistics on any proposed service reductions.
Public transit funds are complex in their disbursement methods. Horgan and Clapp were referring to Culver’s report about transit funding in Ventura County coming from various sources and formulas, then apportioned to local agencies through the Ventura County Transportation Commission.
VCTC receives funds from general sales tax and gasoline sales tax. The Transportation Development Act sets aside one-quarter of 1 percent of sales tax statewide for local community transit needs out of the Local Transportation Fund. These, in turn, are apportioned to each county, then to local jurisdictions on a population-based formula. Additionally, Proposition 42 established a percentage of gasoline sales tax to be dedicated to transportation-related expenditures.
Federal funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration out of two primary programs. Section 5307 addresses urban transit needs, while Section 5311 addresses rural transit needs. Funds from both programs are allocated to Ventura County based on population formulas as distinguished by U.S. Census tracts. Contrary to popular notions of its rural nature, Ojai falls within an urban census tract because there is a continuous concentration of population that stretches throughout the valley.
“According to the census, we’re considered a part of the urban transit connecting to Ventura and Oxnard,” said Culver, adding the only local communities to generate 5311 funds are Fillmore and Santa Paula. Metrolink also provides some federal funds, with allocations based on miles of track utilized.
Beginning this fiscal year, the state took away gasoline sales tax funding for transit services, resulting in a shortfall in Metrolink funding. This was expected to greatly impact the Ojai Trolley Service until VCTC located an alternate source of money to backfill the loss of STA funds for the next year and, possibly, the year after that. Culver said the result is that Ojai will likely be able to claim FTA 5311 funds for the 2010-2011 and, possibly, the 2011-2012 fiscal years.
Still, the loss of STA funding to Ventura County means the federal funds earned by Metrolink will now be needed to fund that system, creating a domino effect of 5311 dollars reverting back to Fillmore and Santa Paula, which are still under-funded. The anticipated eventual loss of 5311 funds to Ojai slashes about one-third of the trolley’s operating budget.
VCTC staff have suggested ways to continue providing some federal funding to the smaller systems. One is to allocate the bulk of the funding to the agencies that earn it, but provide some to help smaller communities to minimize their shortages. Culver said the impact to Ojai could be a maximum reimbursement of $160,000 instead of the current $250,000 to $300,000 the city has been able to claim under 5311 programs.
Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Smith was appalled by ridership. “Look at the farebox, $35,000. That is less than 5 percent of the total cost,” said Smith. “What I would like to see is more information from Mike on what a 25-percent reduction would look like and a huge marketing campaign that lets the public know that, unless they ride the trolley once a week, they might lose it. I don’t want to raise the fare, I want to raise the ridership. People say, ‘Oh, I like riding the trolley,’ but they don’t use it. I will make the commitment to ride the trolley once a week, but we need half the town to use it.”
Ojai Trolley transit operations supervisor Drew Lurie said that service cuts could be arranged to have the least impact on riders as possible. “For example, we have relatively low ridership on the weekends. If we have one vehicle on the route on the weekend, that would be a savings,” he said. “You may not be aware of our current fare structure. It only represents a part of the pie. We have a large number of free riders transferring with Gold Coast at Vons, things like that.”
Smith asked Steve Offerman of 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office to approach the lectern. “If we were to leave Gold Coast, what would happen to the cost for the county to bring the No. 16 bus up the line; and, if we were to drop out, where would the bus end?”
“It would not likely come into the city, but stop at Mira Monte or Meiners Oaks,” Offerman speculated. “Anybody pulling out of Gold Coast increases the cost for other users.”
“If you could come back to us, Mike, with what 25 percent would look like and bring it back to us next meeting and, also, look at marketing increasing ridership, I would be willing to help fund that,” Smith said. “People need to understand this is at a point of using it or losing it. $35,000 farebox out of an $800,000 budget … This is a dire situation.”
“I don’t think we need to know where the little bean under the shell is all the time, but the bottom line: how much it’s going to cost us and how much we need to make it up,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. “From what you told us, I don’t think shutting it down is an option because it will cost us more than it will save.”
Smith’s motion to table the discussion until the next council meeting was unanimously approved. The next Ojai City Council meeting is scheduled for April 13 at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Frazzle overcomes obstacles both on and off course
By Nancy Gross
When hearing about a competition of nearly 1,000 of the nation’s most athletic dogs, does a toy poodle spring to mind? Ojai’s own Frazzle, a toy poodle owned by Nancy and Curtis Lewis, proves that surprising speed and nimbleness can come in small packages.
Frazzle’s registered name is Sassafras of Diamond Dream. He became an American Kennel Club Preferred National Agility Champion in the jump height category of 4 inches at the 2010 Nationals, held in Tulsa, Okla., the weekend of March 26 through 28.
Nancy said, “It was the run of a lifetime, no hiccups, no glitches. He was the No. 1 dog in our class. He runs like a fast dog. I released him and the crowd went nuts. He has always been a crowd pleaser, he’s so tiny.”
She explained, “Agility is where they do a course. The fastest dog wins. ‘Standard’ courses have jumps and tunnels and contact obstacles, an A-frame, a see-saw and a dog walk. There is also ‘Jumpers with Weaves’ in which they do jumps, tunnels and weave poles.
“You have to make time and you have to be accurate.”
On the first day in Tulsa, Frazzle was part of a California team that placed third in team tournaments. “After that he won every round he competed in, in all three rounds plus the finals.”
Lewis bought Frazzle in 2000. In 2001, at his full-grown height of 10.5 inches, she had him competing. “My goal was just to have fun with our dog. I never thought of having a national agility dog. The fact that we got a champion is just icing on the cake.”
Frazzle participated in the Nationals in 2008, but was not a winner. Lewis said, “Looking back, in 2008 I got my feet wet. I learned how to compete in a national competition. I encourage my girlfriends to check it out before the dog is truly ready to compete.
“A national competition is truly overwhelming for handlers and for dogs. You only get about eight to 10 minutes to learn the course and decide how you’re going to run your dog through.”
Lewis trains with Margie Hanlon in Camarillo Seaside Scramblers and Kate Moureaux in Moorpark. Lewis said that Hanlon is oriented toward handlers and dogs having a good time, although she will help and encourage anyone who wants to take their dog to higher levels. Moureaux, Lewis explained, is a world team competitor, constantly doing national and international competitions, and very geared that way.
What is remarkable about Frazzle’s wins is that it was believed that Frazzle had cancer as last year was ending. He had been sneezing at times for several years. He also had what Nancy called a “funky jumping style.” Maybe discomfort was causing him to carry his body oddly on the course because a mass was found in Frazzle’s nasal cavity.
Curt Lewis is a veterinarian who does low-cost spays and neuters at the Humane Society in Ojai and in Camarillo. He had Frazzle see another veterinarian and have a CAT scan.
“Most tumors in dogs are cancerous,” Nancy said.
ancer cells were found and Frazzle was being prepared to receive radiation treatment.
Lewis felt that while Frazzle had qualified, he would die before he got to compete. She registered him anyway. “Even if he died, he earned the right to be in the catalog.”
Frazzle’s health and strength had also faltered after his eighth year, but 14 months later he was back up to speed. That added to the sorrow that he would miss the 2010 Nationals.
Frazzle never needed radiation. One day Frazzle began sneezing violently and bleeding. “And then he never sneezed again. His next histopath came back no cancer cells. It’s bizarre. It’s one of the most bizarre things that I ever lived.
“After that whole thing broke, his jumping came back to normal. I had a different dog to run,” said Lewis. Then, just as in a feel-good movie, Frazzle outdid himself and became one of the smallest big winners Ojai has known.
Lewis has begun training two of Frazzle’s sons, and she has another dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Gremlin, that she has shown at the AKC Invitational in 2008 and 2009. “They invite the top five dogs of every breed. The idea is to showcase how different breeds perform in different categories.”
Gremlin is a rescue dog, and Lewis said, “The AKC has a program for you to register dogs that appear to be pure bred. They also have a new program called Canine Partners so that you can even register a mutt.”
Nancy and Curt have lived in Ojai since 1986. They have four horses left over from the days when Nancy did dressage and gave riding lessons. She now likes the ease of preparation when it comes to getting a dog to a competition, as opposed to a horse.
She is the business manager and partner in Curt’s veterinary business.
Nancy has always loved animals and said, “I have been trying to raise money for the Humane Society to purchase agility equipment.” Her hope is that some of the dogs with high drive can learn to channel this energy into something that can be fun for the dogs, and be an outlet and sport for prospective owners to consider.
For Nancy, running dogs is a source of delight. In addition, “It is good exercise. It’s good for the brain.”
Webster first, Miller second in Cal State Championship
By Logan Hall
When Erin Miller and Greg Webster get ready for a day of hill climbing, they don’t put on hiking boots or carry a backpack. The two Ojai Valley residents strap on their protective gear, hop onto their modified dirt bikes, and roar full throttle up the trail. Miller and Webster are hillclimb competitors, using Webster’s modified dirt bikes to tackle steep hillsides that most would have difficulty making it up on foot.
This year, in the California State Championship Hillclimb and Verticross Pro-Am event, held in Tracy in March, both riders did very well. Webster took first place out of 25 riders in the 450cc stock verticross competition, taking down many seasoned riders including professional Robie Peterson. Miller, in one of her first competitions, took an impressive second place in the women’s stock class, also getting the best of most of the veterans of the sport, many of whom have big sponsors that allow them to pursue the sport full time.
“It’s pretty competitive,” said Miller who used Webster’s 2007 KTM xsf 450 in her competition. “There are so many good riders there. Most of those girls have their own custom bikes and can race all the time.”
Webster seems to be pretty seasoned when it comes to the world of hillclimb competition and has participated in many events for the sport. He also has some solid sponsors to back him up, including Cal Coast Motorsports, Six Six One, GSS Raceporting and Bravo Condoms, whose owner started the company after losing a friend to the AIDS virus.
Both Miller and Webster have been riding motorcycles for more than 20 years, giving them the experience they needed to edge out the competition, but they also have full-time pursuits that don’t allow for a consistent race or practice schedule. Miller, who was born and raised in Ojai, is currently completing her prerequisite classes to enroll in the Ventura College nursing program. Webster owns and operates Greg Rents, a full-service rental yard in Oak View.
Webster is also an active member of the community. Greg Rents is a member of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, and he is the second vice president of the Oak View City Council. He is also pushing to get a place set aside for local kids to ride dirt bikes. “Riding has always helped keep me out of the gutter,” he said. “I want to give all these kids around here something to do, and get them off the streets.”
Despite fierce competition and the inherent dangers of hillclimb and motorcycles in general, Miller and Webster will continue to compete in and enjoy the sport that they love so much.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Miller, who broke both of her arms seven years ago riding in the river bottom. “I learned to never give up no matter what.”
County orders removal of obstructing boulders
By Sondra Murphy
The private property owners of land bordering Shelf Road access on Gridley Road have taken drastic means to protect their land against trespassers. Greg Culbert decided to place large boulders in a traditional parking area, leading to an outcry of protest among hikers.
Whether the through-way is public or private is a matter of dispute, but the county wasted little time in addressing the blockage. “It’s clear that he’s moved some of those materials onto the public right of way where people are allowed to park and so we’re going to be talking with him about removing the obstructions,” said 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett. “There is public access that the public has had access to for decades in terms of this property.”
“This property is a trust, the Culbert Family Partnership,” said Culbert. “We have been the owners for six generations, so we’re not newcomers by any means.” Culbert, a single father, who also cares for his sister and 90-year-old father, tends to the 75-acre parcel, including orchards, which the family has owned since the 19th century.
Ventura County closed Shelf Road to vehicular traffic in 1976 and, in 1990, terminated maintenance, but, according to Bennett, never abandoned its easement. “We’ve examined this and those boulders were inappropriately placed on public property,” Bennett said. “We are going to remove them and open this back up for the public and charge the property owner.” The county took on the task of hauling away the giant rocks yesterday in order to clear the parking area for the weekend. Bennett said it will be much safer for hikers to be able to park nestled off the street instead of out on the narrow and curvy Gridley Road.
Prior to the county’s heavy equipment arrival, Dick Fernow, who voluntarily delivers water and Mutt Mitts to either end of Shelf Road, told the OVN that the supply stations had been vandalized on the Gridley Road side.
Damage has often occurred on the other side of the property line, as well. Culbert said that he had grown tired of dealing with disrespectful trespassers before resorting to placing the rocks along the mouth of Shelf Road where people commonly park to access the throughway. “The Fire Department complained about me blocking the fire lane, but parked cars block it all the time and are never cited,” said Culbert. “We have a problem with underage drinkers and drug users, sometimes 50 at a time up there. When I yell that they’re on private property, you can imagine what kind of gestures I get.”
Culbert said he has been harassed many times by hikers while accessing or working on his own property. In addition to having “Private Property” signs continuously removed, people throw dog manure and beer bottles at family members, roll boulders from his land down the hill and have cut down his sons’ living Christmas tree — twice. He said he has also been shot at and struck by ricocheting bullets.
“The problem is the desecration of the area atop the hill, just west of my house — a place called by the users ‘couch rock,’” said Culbert, adding he plans to measure from benchmark points and GPS waypoints to determine the exact property line. “I have contacted the civil engineer that my father employed in 1996. At that time, my dad and an employee cleared and marked the line with long PVC pipe sections. These markers have long since been vandalized. The situation at couch rock is deplorable.”
“As it relates to the Fire Department, we have an encroachment permit from county Public Works to maintain the road to some degree so fire equipment may access it, and that’s basically as far as it goes,” said Kevin Nestor, deputy fire chief of Ventura County. “We don’t involve ourselves as to public right of way.”
“There are different departments at work here,” Bennett said. “Overall, county government is concerned about the ability for people to enjoy one of the most popular hiking spots in the county, including the ability to park.” The parking problem is mainly what Bennett’s office is hoping to remedy.
“That is not private property, it’s a public road used by hundreds of people a day,” said Bennett. “The county never gave up our right-of-way. He has no right to deny the public right-of- way or easement on the side of the road … If he has a trespassing problem, the solution is not to deny the public access to park there and to just bulldoze blockages onto the public’s property. There may be a dispute as to where the line is, but he’s way onto public property.”
“I didn’t block the Fire Department, I got their attention,” Culbert said, adding that even signs set in concrete have been repeatedly removed. “I had to create a sheer, 12-foot wall and paint ‘Private Property’ on it because people pull the signs down.” He said he has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in liability insurance on the property. He takes issue to being called “reckless,” saying he is trying to defend his family against potential lawsuits. “If someone got hurt, because the county doesn’t maintain it, guess who they’d sue first?” said Culbert. “I don’t have any desire to deal with litigation.”
The incidents are taking their toll on Culbert and he feels he has gotten no support from the various county agencies in the matter. “We’ve tried to have a peaceful coexistence in all the generations that have lived here,” said Culbert. “I’ve turned away developers because I want to keep it pristine. I’ve been complaining about it for years to the different entities. I don’t have time to deal with vandals while caring for my dad, my sister and sons, as well as taking care of my orchards. This isn’t just where I work, this is where I live.”
Culbert questions the lack of respect for his property rights. “A similar experience would be if I were to walk down Bryant Street and just go into the gym and use the facilities there. Do you think I’d be arrested?”
Most anyone can empathize with the hardships caused by living next to a popular hiking trail frequented by inconsiderate partying people, but the county is unclear about the location of the property lines impacted by Culbert’s boulder placement.
“I’ve been nice to anyone I’ve come across who’s been pleasant,” said Culbert. “But the gloves are off … My grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather would never have stood for this.” As a property trustee, Culbert consulted his father, Phillip Culbert, the owner of record, about the problem. “My dad said, ‘Kick them off.’”
Culbert said he would like the county to better patrol the area and enforce violations. “I take ownership for my actions; the county should take ownership of theirs. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t allow access, but deny liability,” Culbert said. “If the public wants access, they had better damn well behave themselves. Getting $75 million to sell it to some developer doesn’t seem so bad sometimes. Let people deal with them instead of me.”
Staff declares problem ‘chronic’
By Logan Hall
Casitas Municipal Water District Board members last week heard the Lake Casitas staff’s concern for the “chronic issues” of underage drinking within the park. The park allows customers age 18 and over to reserve campsites, and park service officers have repeatedly identified individuals that are under the age of 21 as possessing or consuming alcoholic beverages within the park itself.
Due to park staff previously relying on the Ventura County Sheriff to deal with alcohol-related issues, the Water District board passed an amendment to the ordinance that will allow park officers to issue citations directly to underage individuals who are consuming or in the possession of alcohol. “It starts with people just drinking, and tends to escalate,” said park service officer R.J. Faddis on the problems that arise with alcohol-related incidents. “This will be a deterrent and, hopefully, word will spread that we are taking action.”
There were some questions raised about the concern for park officers’ safety in dealing directly with the citations. Director Jim Word repeatedly expressed an “uneasy feeling” in putting the park officers in that position, however, Carol Belser, Casitas park service manager, indicated that staff would receive additional training to handle such situations that should help curtail the issue of underage drinking within the park.
Another agenda item that the board passed unanimously was the sale of up to 2,000 acre-feet of Casitas water to Luz Solar Partners, Ltd. for assistance in the start-up of their new solar power plant, the Mojave Solar Park, in the Mojave Desert. According to internet sources, upon its completion, set for 2011, it will be the largest solar power plant in the world covering an anticipated nine square miles and generating 553 megawatts that will power the equivalent of an estimated 400,000 homes.